Six days after Texas was upset by 14th-seeded Abilene Christian in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Longhorns coach Shaka Smart accepted the Marquette job.
Six days later, Texas announced the hiring of Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, who was considered a front-runner for the position essentially from the second Smart left for Milwaukee.
Brian Davis, Texas basketball and football beat writer for the Austin American-Stateman, covered the coaching change, as well as Beard landing four transfers in his first month on the job.
The number of transfers eventually grew to seven and the Longhorns checked in at No. 5 in the AP preseason poll, setting up one of college basketball’s best nonconference matchups: Saturday’s clash against No. 1 Gonzaga at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
We caught up with Davis, who has covered Texas basketball for nine seasons, to learn more about Beard, the transfers and the showdown against the Zags.
S-R: How much excitement has Beard generated in Austin with his accomplished coaching resume, the roster he’s assembled and the No. 5 preseason ranking?
BD: Beard has pushed all the right buttons, both on the recruiting trail and off the court with marketing. The fact Texas assembled a roster good enough to be ranked fifth in the country was something of a proof-of-concept that Beard’s hiring was smart. Or at least it’s respected.
That said, this program has not been able to rise to the occasion and meet the moment. It’s a major reason why the Horns had a coaching change in the first place. There will be a lot of fans curious to see whether this is something different or just more of the same.
S-R: Three Texas players were selected in the NBA draft, but Beard has restocked the roster through the transfer portal. Of the seven transfers, who is the most important to the team’s success and why?
BD: In my mind, Marcus Carr is likely the most important, because he’s going to be the primary ballhandler. Carr gives them a skilled veteran at arguably the game’s most important position. But the two other newcomers to watch are Timmy Allen and Tre Mitchell. Allen was a solid producer at Utah and needs to keep that going in Austin. Mitchell was arguably the star at UMass. He came off the bench in the exhibition game and went wild, showing off a nice portfolio of moves to ring up 16 points. Dylan Disu, who was one of the SEC’s best rebounders before a knee injury, should be a solid, sizable force when he gets healthy.
S-R: How do the roles of returning backcourt starters Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey change with the arrival of the transfers?
BD: Jones is a Texas fan favorite because of his backstory. He was diagnosed with leukemia at the beginning of 2018 and went through a long, grueling road to recovery. To his credit, Jones came back and led the Horns in scoring (14.6) last season. He also starts the season ranked fourth in all-time points scored. Ramey is one of the most hard-nosed competitors you’ll find. Beard wants him to channel that energy better this season and not lose his cool.
They will have different roles, considering there are so many new faces. But they are like all the newcomers; Jones and Ramey just want to win.
S-R: Sizing up the Gonzaga-Texas matchup, what are the one or two biggest keys for the Longhorns?
BD: One of the biggest advantages Gonzaga has in this matchup is established team chemistry. The Zags played together last season. This is an entirely new team in burnt orange. If the forwards are supposed to cut, will the guards make the right pass or throw it into the stands? Nobody really knows just yet. So it’ll be interesting to see how quickly the Horns mesh as a squad.
Another key is transition defense. That’s how Beard’s teams did so well in Lubbock. The Red Raiders would force a turnover and go the other way for a quick bucket. His half-court offense wasn’t as efficient as others. What does that look like now in Austin?
S-R: Gonzaga and Texas will play next season in Austin. Will the Longhorns’ new arena be up and running by then?
BD: Yes, the new Moody Center is expected to open in late April 2022 with two George Strait and Willie Nelson concerts. Obviously, everyone here is pretty pumped about the arena and those shows.
Basketball-wise, the new arena will be configured to hold about 10,000 fans. The student section is going to be in the lower bowl and be wrapped around the court to be visible on television. Gonzaga should be one of the best marquee games in Texas’ season ticket package next season.
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